* UPDATE 060516: As well as having the honour of opening a Hackney reserve, “Sir David Attenborough” is to be the name of the UK’s newest research ship, despite the un-witty suggestion of supporters of a public campaign. The naturalist this month May 2016 turns 90
OVER THE LAST few weeks Woodberry Wetlands has become the most-publicised nature reserve in the land but until recently only invited bird-watchers were allowed to visit.
Loving Dalston’s 10 x 50 binoculars — “£10 down the Kingsland Waste, a bargain, eh?” — were occasionally flourished at the semi-secret site — when few people other than wildlife enthusiasts ever walked around the barb-wire-fenced Stoke Newington East Reservoir.
What a magnificent change has been wrought by local people, especially London Wildlife Trust’s David Mooney, who forged links with a developer and a housing association and the quango English Heritage. The wildlife trust also signed up Sir David Attenborough to lend his media-friendly persona, and gravitas, to the official opening.
The Hackneyite had the vision to persuade them a nature reserve would help to sell a residential scheme and they coughed up several hundred thousands of pounds for walkways and other features.
The total cost of opening Woodberry Wetlands’ 11 hectares (the size of 13 football pitches) of lakes, ponds and reeds to the public is £1.5 million.
The two reservoirs, fed by the man-made New River, were built in the 1830s to supply water to north Londoners. In the 1990s developers wanted to fill in the reservoirs, but residents denied them. Hackney council acquired one reservoir from Thames Water, turning it into a nature-hostile sailing and watersports centre. Fortunately, the council did not get its hands on the other reservoir which, no longer being treated with chemical additives, was becoming a haven for native creatures.
The trust furthered the process by planting reed beds, hedgerows, wildflower meadows and trees.
Now 52 species of bird have been seen at Woodberry, among them merlin, osprey, peregrine falcon, sparrowhawk, kingfisher, gadwall, shoveller, tufted duck, common wader, tern, reed bunting, song thrush, kestrel, Cetti’s warbler, bittern, water rail, little ringed plover and snipe.
Other important residents are foxes (of course), frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies and damselflies — including the rare red-eye — butterflies and moths.
As the trust’s Mooney says, “This cutting-edge wetland with its tower-block backdrop can now become an attraction for people, too” because Berkeley Homes and Genesis Housing Association is building 5,500 houses and flats on 26 adjacent hectares that used to hold the Sovietish 1950s Woodberry Down estate.
The council’s “regeneration”, starting with the demolition of almost 2,000 homes, has not pleased all its constituents, as revealed by The Multicultural Politic blog.
Their objections have had little effect and the huge new scheme, to be worked on for an ambitious quarter of a century, has already provided 1,300 homes, 520 of them for social rent, 206 shared ownership and the rest for sale.
Berkeley Homes is proud of its UK First policy but despite that, and despite consultation with the Woodberry Down Community Organisation, some homes have been bought by the kind of foreign investor whose urgent need to recycle money has bedevilled the London property market.
Prices at Woodberry start at £425,000 for a one-bedroom flat, rising to £1.27 million on the 30th floor. But even the cheapest, if that is the right word, will have access to a gym and a pool.
Next for the LWT treatment is Walthamstow Reservoirs, an SSSI or Site of Special Developer — sorry, Scientific — Interest.
David Altheer 290416
* Woodberry Wetlands, New River Path, 226 Lordship Road, Stoke Newington N16 5HQ, daily from Sunday 1 May 2016, 8am-5pm, free. No pooches, apart from assistance dogs. Free tours Sunday and Monday this 2016 bank holiday weekend at 10am, noon, 2pm and 4pm
* All pictures on this page © DavidAltheer [at] gmail.com, and all for sale for reproduction. Most photographs are available in bigger formats.
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